This is the image of a high school coach most don’t see: Alone in a locker room, inhaling a quick bite after practice, accompanied by lockers and shoulder pads, cellphone pressed to his ear, his thoughts in four places at once.
“Quite a few nights I’d cut through the P.E. office, and there’s Mike Johnson at his desk, squeezing in dinner, by himself,” Franklin High School athletic director Mike Cody said. “That’s our life.”
Johnson is altering that lifestyle. After 12 seasons as football coach at the Elk Grove Unified School District school, starting the Wildcats’ football program from scratch and building it into a perennial contender, Johnson is stepping down. He’s not ill, and he’s not clamoring for extra time with family since his sons, Brady and Brandon, attend Frankin.
“I’m doing this because it’s time,” said Johnson, 46. “I’ve been a head coach for 21 years, and that’s a long time.”
Johnson said he’s not finished with coaching, but his situation reflects a growing trend among local prep coaches – young and old. Last week, five area football coaches announced their resignations. The grind had become suffocating, and it’s time to catch their breath. None expects to return as a head coach any time soon at any level, if at all.
“You will not see me re-emerge as a varsity head coach,” Johnson assured. “I’ve done my time, and I’m completely happy with the experiences. But I’m a third-generation P.E. teacher, and I feel that if you teach that, you should coach something on your campus, in some capacity. Who knows. Maybe I’ll do water polo. I’ll learn to swim and learn the sport.”
Johnson understands the toll coaching brings because he’s lived it – and lived with it. His wife, Gina, is the longtime women’s basketball coach at Delta College in Stockton, so she understands the art of chowing down in a hurry, on the fly.
“We’ve been able to manage this for years, the kids, our lives, coaching, but it’s not always easy,” Johnson said. “I used to scout games with a fanny pack thing and my child in it, or one on my back and the other in a carrier. It’s hard to be a good dad, a good husband, a good father, a good teacher and a good coach all at once. I know a lot of coaches who are separated or divorced because of coaching. It can really be hard on a family, but we’ve managed to make it work, but I’m tired and worn out being a head coach.”
Cody said he appreciates Johnson for his upbeat spirit, sportsmanship and impact on students. That makes for a difficult coach to replace, beyond three league championships, eight playoff teams and CIF Model Coach honor.
“I understand where Mike’s coming from,” said Cody, who headed the Franklin baseball team for years before stepping aside to spend more time with his kids when they were younger. “It’s a tough loss for us. Mike was a really big hire here when this school opened, and he set a pretty high standard. He raised the bar for all of us, helping establish a great culture on campus.”
Johnson said the timing of his resignation was important.
“It’s very important to me that we get a strong football coach in here, to continue what we’ve built,” Johnson said.
Gerald DeLoach, the regal yet kindly girls basketball coach at Kennedy in the 1980s and early ’90s and later the athletic director at Johnson in the 2000s, died of heart failure. He was 67. DeLoach was a lineman at Sacramento High and UC Davis and drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1970. His son, Jerry, was a lineman at Valley and Cal before playing five NFL seasons.
Utah running back Devontae Booker (Grant, American River College) said he will return for his senior season with the Utes. He rushed for 1,512 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior, and his physical style earned him the nickname “Book Mode” – an homage to Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who goes by “Beast Mode.”
Clinic of Champions
High school and college coaches from Northern California will speak at the Max Miller Clinic of Champions on Feb. 6-7 in Sacramento on concepts and running teams for coaches of all levels. Speakers include: Greg Benzel (Rocklin), Ernie Cooper (Granite Bay), Paul Creighton (UC Davis assistant), Phil Grams (Capital Christian), Terry Logue (Bear River), Pete Lavorato (Sacred Heart Prep-Atherton), Ron Lynn (Stanford director of player development), Ben Noonan (Sierra College) and Jon Osterhout (ARC).
Go to www.clinicofchampions.com for information.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.